California Spanish Style Houses History

by THAT Painter Lady

In California Spanish Style Houses, the historical settlement of the country by the monks of the Franciscan Order and the architectural forms which these priests and their Indian charges reared exerted an unmistakable influence upon domestic architecture. Moreover, the remoteness from Mexico and the corresponding scarcity of competent artisans, together with the enforced employment of the crudest of materials, led to an extreme simplification of forms and an utter minimization of detail.

This was perhaps no handicap in a wonderfully clear and vibrant atmosphere, such as California enjoys, and this very simplification of forms, in contrast to the exuberance and lavishness which is everywhere so pronounced in Mexico, serves to give early Californian domestic architecture its frugal, honest, and craftsmanlike character.

Without much in the way of ornament and the employment of only the simplest of structural expedients, Californian architecture had of necessity to pay large attention to the proportion and form of these few expedients, if beauty were to be accomplished.

The fundamental simplicity and well-proportioned masses of the old houses at San Diego, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, and Monterey constitute valuable object-lessons to those of us who seek beauty of pure form unaided by the cloying sweetness of lavish detail.

While most of the important Californian Spanish Style Houses retained their arrangement around an enclosed patio, the treatment of the surrounding arcades of that patio became simple in the extreme.

Here, how ever, due to the manufacturing prowess of the mission fathers, good roofing tiles were available and almost invariably Californian houses and all their appendages were covered with ruddy “Mission” tiles.

The “desert” situation of Arizona, on the other hand, and the proximity of Arizona to Sonora, served to ally the architectural expressions of these two provinces and to give to them a certain “desert” quality which recalls, perhaps more forcefully than anything else to be encountered in America, the desert forms of Moorish North Africa.

Here the roofs, always a “crowning glory” in California Spanish Style Houses, become flat and refuse to figure in the perspective.

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